Improving Access to Rheumatology Care: The Role of Telehealth and Direct Specialty Care

Improving Access to Rheumatology Care: The Role of Telehealth and Direct Specialty Care

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In the United States, there is a significant disparity between the number of rheumatology specialists and the number of people suffering from arthritis and autoimmune diseases. With approximately 3,500 rheumatologists serving a population of nearly 60 million people with arthritis and countless others with autoimmune conditions, finding timely and affordable care has become a persistent challenge.

The Disparity in Rheumatology Care in the United States

Lack of Rheumatologists

The shortage of rheumatologists in the United States has led to long waiting times for appointments, particularly in rural and underserved areas. This shortage is expected to worsen in the coming years as the demand for rheumatology services continues to grow.

Challenges in Accessing Specialist Care

Many patients are unable to find specialist care when they need it the most. Let me introduce you to Alex’s story, a 32-year-old veteran from Florida. After experiencing joint pain in his hands for about four months, his primary care physicians decided to test him for an autoimmune disease. The ANA (antinuclear antibody) test came back, leaning to the possibility that Alex was suffering from a possible autoimmune disease, like lupus. Alex found himself in a distressing situation when with a referral to a rheumatologist in his hands, he was unable to secure an appointment with a specialist within a 100-mile radius for the next six months.

Telehealth: Breaking Geographical Barriers

It was at this crucial juncture that Alex’s wife had a brilliant idea – to explore the possibility of an online rheumatologist offering virtual consultations. They discovered Dr. Girnita, a pioneering physician based in California, who had obtained multiple medical licenses across the U.S. states, enabling her to practice telemedicine.

Dr. Girnita’s practice, Rheumatologist OnCall, was the first telehealth company in the United States to specialize in providing services to people with arthritis and autoimmune diseases, starting in 2019. By embracing telemedicine, Dr. Girnita was able to bridge the geographical gap and offer Alex a consultation the very next day, initiating the path towards a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Direct Specialty Care Model

Rheumatologist OnCall operates under a direct specialty care model that prioritizes personalized care, unhurried consultations, and transparent pricing. Dr. Girnita recognized the need for a healthcare model that rebuilds trust and fosters genuine relationships with patients, while also optimizing costs for laboratory tests, imaging, and medications.

Eliminating Surprise Medical Bills

One of the key advantages of the direct specialty care model is the elimination of surprise medical bills. Traditional healthcare systems often leave patients vulnerable to unexpected charges, co-pays, and deductibles, adding financial stress to an already challenging situation. With direct specialty care practices, the transparent pricing structure gives patients the power to choose to make informed decisions and budget accordingly.

Partnering for Affordable Care

To truly deliver on the promise of affordable care, Dr. Girnita has forged strategic partnerships with laboratory and imaging centers across the country. By negotiating favorable rates, Rheumatologist OnCall can offer patients access to diagnostic tests and imaging services at significantly reduced costs compared to traditional healthcare settings.

This collaborative approach not only ensures cost transparency but also makes essential diagnostic procedures more accessible to patients, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Prioritizing Patient-Centric Care

The direct specialty care model adopted by Rheumatologist OnCall has set a new standard for telehealth excellence in rheumatology.

By eliminating barriers such as the need for referrals and accepting patients with or without health insurance, the practice has opened the door for anyone seeking expert rheumatology care without discrimination.

Patients appreciate the convenience of virtual consultations, which eliminate the need for travel and time off work. Additionally, the unhurried, personalized approach fosters a deeper level of trust and understanding between the physician and patient, leading to more effective treatment plans and better outcomes.

Advantages of Telehealth in Rheumatology

Telehealth offers numerous advantages in the field of rheumatology, including:

  • Time Efficiency: Patients no longer face the stress of rushed appointments or the need to take time off work for in-person visits.
  • Cost Savings: Virtual consultations eliminate travel expenses and potentially reduce overall healthcare costs through transparent pricing and strategic partnerships.
  • Improved Patient Experience: Patients can access expert care from the comfort of their homes, leading to greater convenience and satisfaction.
  • Expanded Access: Rheumatologists can provide specialized care to a broader patient population, reaching even the most underserved areas.

By leveraging telehealth, Dr. Girnita and Rheumatologist OnCall have revolutionized rheumatology care, improving outcomes and enhancing the quality of life for patients with arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

Pioneering the Direct Specialty Care Alliance

Dr. Girnita’s commitment to patient-centric care and transparent pricing has extended beyond his own practice. Recognizing the need for a broader movement, he co-founded the Direct Specialty Care Alliance (DSCA) alongside Dr. Lara Kenney.

The DSCA is a community dedicated to empowering specialists across various medical fields to embrace the direct specialty care model. By providing resources, support, and a platform for collaboration, the alliance aims to promote independent practice, personalized care, and cost transparency for patients nationwide.

Through the DSCA, Dr. Girnita and Dr. Kenney are spearheading a movement that challenges the traditional healthcare system, advocating for a more patient-focused approach that prioritizes accessibility, affordability, and trust-building.


Telehealth has revolutionized rheumatology care, offering patients convenience, affordability, and personalized attention. Dr. Girnita’s direct specialty care model, embodied by Rheumatologist OnCall, has transformed the way patients receive care, setting

Author: dscalliance

Diana Girnita

Diana Girnita, MD, PhD is a highly respected healthcare professional and visionary entrepreneur who has made significant contributions to the field of medicine. She is widely recognized as the founder of the Direct Specialty Care Alliance, an innovative organization that promotes direct care for specialists across the United States. Dr. Girnita’s leadership and vision have earned her widespread recognition and admiration within the healthcare community. She continues to be a leading voice in the field, advocating for the rights of patients and working tirelessly to improve the healthcare system for physicians. Her work through the Direct Specialty Care Alliance has had a profound impact on the physicians’ work, and she will continue to inspire and drive innovation in the field of medicine for years to come.

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